Despite what the early spring schedules might say, the Juneau-Douglas High School girls soccer team will be the only local prep club getting their season underway this weekend.
The Crimson Bears, who finished tied for third in the state a season ago, will head to regional rival Ketchikan today and Saturday for what is likely to be a wet, wind-whipped pair of season openers. The JDHS club has spent its only short practice time outside this spring cracking and spreading the ice on the downtown turf field, though, and first-year coach Matt Dusenberry and company are anxious to hit the grass - or even just mud.
"I know we're chomping at the bit to get playing and get outside," Dusenberry said. "The girls are tired of the gym. We're four weeks into the season and yet to be outside for a real practice."
The Southeast rivalry has been decidedly one-sided in recent years and Dusenberry hopes that this year's batch of young recruits can keep the momentum churning. Only two seniors grace the club's roster, and Wendy Calderwood is the only one with significant varsity experience from a year ago. The Bears do have a core of younger players who have put on the varsity red and black - Emily Johnson, Annika Ord, Sarah Tarver, Pauline Zheng and Nia Maake all made the jump - but their new routine of practicing four-across in the JDHS main gym isn't boosting the experience factor at all.
"The class that graduated last year was a very strong group of players," Dusenberry said. "I just want to see what we have and how we deal with the elements. If you train in a gym the ball plays quite nice for you, but when you go to the field it doesn't always go that way. As young as we are, just getting games in and getting the experience will be huge."
Just as in the basketball season, the only games that will matter for JDHS this season will be against Ketchikan. Only one of the teams will take the trip to Anchorage for the state championships early this summer. Unfortunately for both teams, those crucial contests will likely get started this weekend on short, thin "long jump pit" that, according to Dusenberry, has been known to hold a few pieces of shell.
"We've got a few girls nursing ankle injuries, so it's kind of unnerving to have to go and play on that surface," Dusenberry said. "But Ketchikan is making it work and making these games happen so we're just happy to get out there."
Prior to taking the varsity girls' coaching position, Dusenberry spent the past 10 seasons as a member of Gary Lehnhart's boys coaching staff and also helped coordinate the local Juneau Soccer Club activities. The biggest change, he said, has been having the entire girls program practicing together each day. With roughly half the number of players as the boys side, Dusenberry said the line between varsity and junior varsity is likely to change with every game - if not every practice.
"There's never been a quick line in the sand as to who's varsity and who's J.V.," Dusenberry said. "(Practicing together) allows us to interchange players, even in practice, to see who clicks together. The girls know that just because they're J.V. this week doesn't mean they're not varsity next week."
More than anything, Dusenberry said the upcoming season will be a search for the right mix of talented youngsters who will take over as the new face of the program.
"When we're this young, we really want to get everybody and anybody an opportunity to play that deserves it," he said. "We just need to get outside and see what we have and see what we're capable of. We certainly have a lot of talent."